University Claims This To Be An Old Database From 2003 That They Never Used –
The Vanguard, after a series of denials, eventually got the University to admit that a “small” database existed back in 2003 and 2004. It was developed to track activists in 2003 in advance of a US Department of Agriculture Conference that they claimed was likely to be protested by many out of areas activists, some of whom they claimed threatened violence and disorder.
The university maintains that the database never was completed and that names, other than initial names, were never entered. However, the university has denied disclosure of the database to allow the Vanguard to confirm the university’s claims, under a law enforcement exception in the Public Records Act.
The Vanguard continues to fight for disclosure of the database to put the issue to rest once and for all.
The journey to this admission offers a fascinating study of a university infrastructure where, quite literally, the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing or had done just a few years before. As a result, caution must be taken before accepting the official story.
This all began with an anonymous tip suggesting the existence of the database and the name of two people who would know of its existence and who ostensibly worked on it.
Based on that tip, the Vanguard filed a Public Records Act request with the university. Captain Joyce Souza of the UC Davis Police Department, incidentally, one of the people who was said to have worked on the database at its onset, responded to the Vanguard records request, as Lynette Temple, who normally handles PRA’s, was out of town.
Captain Souza responded flatly, “The Police Department does not retain an ACCESS Database of protestors or other activists.”
However, the Vanguard already had information enough to the contrary to know that this was not accurate.
We pressed again. This time, Captain Souza was more explicit in her response, “There has never been a database of activists or protestors. There was an arrest record of those arrested, in prior demonstrations at animal facilities, but that is very different. To my knowledge, even the arrest log no longer exists. “
She then continued, “I don’t know who you are getting your information from but it does not seem to be reliable or, at the very least, accurate.”
Despite her assertions, she would regret that response. The Vanguard pressed its source for more information and then using that information, had legal counsel craft a very explicit email.
This time we did not get a flat denial. Instead, Captain Souza said, “I have been asked to release any records available through UC Davis Office of Public Records, which is in Campus Counsel’s office. “
Captain Souza further informed the Vanguard that she would be out of the office until mid-May and that it may take until the end of May to comply with the request.
However, by this point, Lynette Temple had returned from vacation to inform the Vanguard, “After reviewing the attached letter, in which you clarified that your request is for access to an ‘intelligence database’ maintained by the UCDPD, I can actually make a determination about these records without reviewing them. Any type of ‘intelligence database’ maintained by the UCDPD is exempt from disclosure under the Public Records Act. “
She went on to cite California Government Code Section 6254(f) which she said, “does not require disclosure of ‘[r]ecords of complaints to, or investigations conducted by, or records of intelligence information or security procedures of, the office of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice, the California Emergency Management Agency, and any state or local police agency, or any investigatory or security files compiled by any other state or local police agency, or any investigatory or security files compiled by any other state or local agency for correctional, law enforcement, or licensing purposes’ except in certain circumstances, such as providing information to victims of an incident.”
She added, “The UCDPD does make arrest information available in accordance with the law, but an ‘intelligence database’ such as you have described is very different and is exempt from public disclosure even in a redacted form.”
After a number of back and forths between Vanguard legal counsel and the university that went nowhere, the Vanguard went after the approach differently. First, an ill-fated attempt to circumvent the legal counsel. Then, attempts through the University News Service.
Claudia Morain, the News Service Director, played a crucial role in the Vanguard’s ability to get closer to the truth in this matter.
The initial response back on May 6 was again flat denial. She told the Vanguard, “The campus police department does not keep a database on protesters or other activists. The university respects, embraces and encourages free speech and civil dissent, and recognizes that ‘taking names’ would chill such speech. We don’t do it.”
However, this too would prove premature.
The Vanguard would speak to Greg Murphy. Greg Murphy worked briefly for the UC Davis police department before becoming police chief at Sierra College and then moving on as a POST (Police Officer Standars and Training) Instructor.
Mr. Murphy spoke to the Vanguard briefly and, while he did not remember a lot, he confirmed the existence of the database. To his recollection, it was more of a training exercise than a database and said it was not even completed when he left in 2004.
Based on that information, the Vanguard was able to go back to Claudia Morain and explain that, for the first time, we had independent confirmation in addition to having seen a screen shot of the interface portion of the database.
Based on that information, Claudia Morain arranged a meeting between UC Davis Chief Annette Spicuzza, herself and Andy Fell of the UC Davis News Service, myself and one of my assistants. For the first time in that meeting, which was largely off the record, Chief Spicuzza confirmed the existence of the database, informing the Vanguard that she was unaware of its existence until two days prior.
Following the meeting, Claudia Morain sent to the Vanguard a formal statement in which she thanked the Vanguard for its commitment to fairness and accuracy.
“As I wrote previously, the university does not maintain a database on protestors, activists or others who are peacefully exercising their constitutional rights,” the statement read.
She continued, “However, UC Davis police have now discovered a small database apparently established in 2003. It has not been used since at least 2004, and the current police chief was not aware of its existence. Police commanders are clear that no such database is in use now, and officers do not ‘take names’ or gather information on protesters who are lawfully exercising their right to free speech.”
“The University of California, Davis, affirms the right to freedom of expression in our community and the right of every individual to think and speak as dictated by personal belief, to express any idea, and to disagree with another’s point of view, limited only by university regulations governing time, place and manner,” she concluded.
That left a few loose ends. The Vanguard spoke briefly with former Police Chief Calvin Handy, who was the chief at that time. He had a vague recollection of the project but not many of the details.
However, last week, the Vanguard met with Captain Joyce Souza to gain a better understanding of her initial response. Again, Claudia Morain and Andy Fell from the News Service joined us.
Captain Souza explained that she had not remembered the database or the project, but due to our very explicit and precise description, she believed there may be something to the claim.
She had a tech person search the computer and, sure enough, they found the database as described.
She then remembered the details that no one else seemed to have known. The effort came out of a USDA Conference in the Davis and Sacramento area that would feature 187 countries. It was in 2003 and was the first conference of its type since 9/11.
She created a team of people of people, hoping to compile information from websites and to share across jurisdictions and agencies.
She claims that some activists from the Seattle WTO Protests were threatening to making it into another WTO event where a small number of protesters rioted and damaged property. They also had concerns about Animal Rights activists and the desire to track them.
However, she said that no information was entered other than five initial names, two of which were police officers in testing the system. It was never used and they never completed it.
She stated categorically that the university has no database tracking activists.
Cres Velluci, a board member with the Sacramento ACLU, believes that small police departments tend to overreact to demonstrations, no matter how peaceful they are.
He told the Vanguard, “In this case, it’s obvious the UCD police cannot be trusted to be totally truthful.”
“A list existed, apparently, and despite repeated denials, now even the PD admits that,” he said. “The bigger question, in a cover-up, is did those in the police department lie, or are they just incompetent?”
Mr. Velluci remains concerned about the implications of this discovery and is not taking the university’s denials at face value.
“The fact that they’ve already told you that would not release specific information under a claimed CPRA exception means that they still may be far from being completely truthful…but there is no way to prove it if they won’t release the information,” Mr. Velluci added.
He noted that the ACLU historically has opposed the government keeping lists of people involved in traditional free speech and other constitutionally-protected activities because it can chill free speech rights.
“As a board member of the ACLU of Sacramento, enough has transpired here regarding the students and their rights, as well as this recent revelation, for me to ask the ACLU of Northern California to consider investigation further to see if there has been any illegal activity by the UC Davis Police Department,” Cres Velluci concluded.
In a perfect world, the Vanguard would take the word of the university. However, their lack of knowledge of the initial database is disconcerting. Further, the efforts with the Student Activist team and the quasi-controversy involving a plainclothes police office also cast some doubt. The university previously apologized for that unfortunate incident and vowed to do better in the future. It is a big organization and we do not hold any one person accountable for the collective missteps here.
In the end, the university could end any speculation by simply releasing the database. However, they have chosen to exempt it under the Public Records Act. Litigation may prove that they are not entitled to exempt the records. However, even if courts prove them right, they always have the option to waive the exemption and provide information.
Naturally, the University has a very different take on what transpired here.
“We respect the Vanguard’s important role as a community watchdog, and appreciate the care with which you have reported this story — but want to emphasize that UC Davis is a safe place to express ideas and lawful dissent,” Claudia Morain told the Vanguard on Monday.
She added, “It’s also a place where people can be assured that their privacy will be protected, whether it’s in regard to patient medical records, student disciplinary records, employee personnel actions — or information from an old police computer file.”
At this point, the key question is the release of the database to verify claims by the university that it has not been used. Of course, we have no way of knowing whether the university has a more recent database tracking protesters, other than their explicit denial.
Claudia Morain once again concluded: “We would never knowingly violate people’s privacy, and making this database public could do that.”
While we understand and appreciate that concern, we are less interested in seeing the specific names than verifying the lack of use of the database. We believe there are ways around their privacy concerns.
At this point, our conclusion is that those who have nothing to hide, hide nothing. Thus there remains that kernel of doubt.
—David M. Greenwald reporting